A Story by Anita Zhu

Studying in Rural China

posted on August 7th, 2017   397 views


From late January to mid May, I lived in rural Yunnan, China in a town called Xizhou near Dali. It was a world entirely different from my suburban private school setting. The study abroad program I went on was called China Fieldwork Semester (CFS) run by Sidwell Friends School. My teachers, Mr. John Flower and Dr. Pam Leonard, along with Mary Fagan, Yang Wendou, Xu laoshi, and Zheng laoshi, were impeccable role models. They made the program truly one-of-a-kind. Our motto was learning by doing. The most important thing I developed during was my love for learning, and the program allowed me the chance to really take learning into my own hands. 

Thanks to the partnership with the Linden Centre, we lived in a renovated traditional-style house originally built in 1947. During my first week in Xizhou, I spent most of my time getting to know the environment and the people. As the only student on the program from my school, I had to immerse myself with new people in a new environment. But I have had to do this many times before, so it wasn’t such a hard task. In the serene, yet engaging learning environment, I matured and gained confidence over the course of the semester. 

This program was distinctive of its hands-on nature. Classwork revolved around the themes of study units, i.e. temples, house/home/family (), apprenticeship, and Tibet. In the first two units of the History: Grassroots China course, we conducted research on local temples and house, interviewing the local community, reading primary and secondary source documents, and finally writing a detailed research report. These units were especially interesting with the complimentary Chinese Literature in Translation course, where we read excerpts from John King Fairbank’s China: A New History and Chinese classics, as well as Pa Chin’s Family. 

The apprenticeship unit was my favorite. Every student chose a local craft to learn. For the entire month of March, I went to my master’s workshop from 9am to 12pm every weekday to learn the craft. During this time, we also learned about the culture and history surrounding the craft, significance to the community, and the future of the craft. I chose tie-dye and I wrote a book about the craft (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx43FPR1bqL-cC1HLWhIS2FKQlk/view?usp=sharing). 

When April rolled around, we started our trip to the Tibetan areas in northern Yunnan. Our largest units were Buddhism, Chinese history post-1949, and the local environment. My favorite moment during that trip was we saw the rare red panda in the forest of the village of Niru. At that moment, we all realized how lucky we were to have this amazing opportunity of studying in China like this. 

I will always remember my time in China as a fun, engaging, and life-changing time. I hope to return someday and give back to the amazing community there. 

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